17 May 2013


Friday Night Series: The Big Reunion

Is it so awful to think of art and religion as vehicles for making money? The professional apologist whom I have been most critical of told me that if what he produced did not break any commandments and had a market willing to buy it, then he had every right to make his living that way. Although I didn't realise it at the time, what really bothered me about that argument was not what it said, but what it didn't say.

It wasn't really until I got through all nine episodes of The Big Reunion that I was able to see what was missing. But don't worry that I'll make you sit through all nine with me as well. =P May I Have Some Music? month will feel complete even if I never live blog more than the first three episodes. So let's get started, aye?

Episode 1 gives us 5ive and Liberty X. The former are one of those manufactured boybands that the 90s were all about. The latter are one of the first groups which owe their existence to a reality show talent competition. It seems slightly cheesy to like them, aye? Well, that's Friday Night Entertainment at Shredded Cheddar for you!

5:26 "I actually feel a little bit stupid doing it at thirty-three." So why do it, then? . . . Answer to come later!
5:48 "Even though we're, like, forty . . ." It gets worse and worse, doesn't it? =P
7:39 It figures that Simon Cowell would have a hand in this, aye? He wasn't the first to see the potential in this music making model, but he has arguably been the most successful.
9:35 Is that the best impression of Cowell ever done or what?! LOL!!!
11:37 Recognise Nigel Lythgow? He, too, has been successful in "manufacturing" musical acts.
13:13 It's one thing to say that 5ive are "fake" because Cowell put them together. But what do you say about Liberty X, who were cut from the final lineup of a "manufactured" pop group and independently decided to form their own band?
15:04 We're as embarrassed as they are at the prospect that they're past their shelf date these days . . . but there's something even worse about someone's career peaking at seventeen.
15:45 Seriously, they're kids here. Why do we give them so much, so fast as teens and then not want to give them another chance when they become adults?
17:56 This is my favourite anecdote because it's so telling. Basically, 5ive got to start fires in hotel rooms and brawls in pubs only because they were allowed to. Management had complete control the entire time. And if you don't believe me, remember that the other boyband Cowell was helping to (micro-)manage in the late 90s was WESTLIFE. Squeaky-clean, virginal-white Westlife. 
21:00 Confession: I had no idea who Liberty X were before watching The Big Reunion, but it's hard not to feel really happy for them here. =)
29:13 "It's a bit like an old dog, I guess, that you've got to keep taking to the vet. It starts costing you lots of money and you . . . can't even take it for a walk anymore . . ." Unless this line has been taken out of context, note that it refers to a group which were only two years old at the time--and which had had a #1 single and won a Brit Award just the year before.
31:42 "I remember thinking, 'That's not the way to go out' . . ." Stop right there, Tony! There are pop star conventions, yes; but no one is ever guaranteed a great ending. This is the real world, not a story.
36:24 In contrast, 5ive went out when . . . Choose one option: a) they were the #1 group in the world; or b) two members had been driven to emotional breakdowns. (Was that "the way to go out"?)
40:30 Which uninspired producer's idea was it to answer the question "Where are they now?" with little more than updates on procreation and health? =/ We want to know about work and careers!
45:27 Granted, we can't blame anyone for thinking in terms of writing a final chapter when they're on a Reality show--or even when they're saturated by Reality TV. It's a storytelling medium, after all.

Episode 2 has two tough acts to follow--and the Big Reunion producers knew it, which is why they've sneaked the always-entertaining 5ive into this one as well. (LOL!) But this episode is also more of a look at relationships formed--and fractured--by the industry. Our vehicles are girl group Atomic Kitten and boyband 911.

2:23 I can never get over how pretty Kerry Katona used to be. (Please note that this enters NSFW territory until about @3:07. Keep your eyes closed until the music gets poppy.)
4:23 Atomic Kitten were another manufactured group, but didn't they just sound for all the world like regular girls reminiscing about the time they first met? =)
5:09 "The sooner we can get somebody in this, the sooner we can get on the road and get some women." And 911 sound like they were regular teenage boys! =P
8:13 As much as I personally hated 911 . . . even I could sing Bodyshakin' back then. Pop Victory, boys!
16:01 "It was like that sister you didn't really see much of, unless you kind of had to." How quickly bandmates turn into the (dysfunctional) second family you never had . . .
18:16 But these two were literally husband and wife . . . and not the only ones. 
21:11 "I guess she thought, leaving the band, 'I can be the wife to him' . . . kind of the family life she never had." Weren't Atomic Kitten already the family life she never had? You know that folk tale (probably a modern invention) about travelers being told they'd find every new village exactly the same as the one they had left? Apparently, it was Kerry's story throughout the Noughties.
22:32 And that's all we hear about absent Kitten Jenny Frost. Which shows us how classy the Kittens have turned out to be.
23:47 In contrast, some members of 5ive sound as if they've been longing to slag off former member J for years. LOL!
25:21 "I still live all my days as a member of this band and I still get recognised even today . . ." It never goes away, does it? They're not giving it a second go as much as they're doing what has become second nature.
27:35 Sometimes the formula works so well that it's stifling. If the price of platinum albums and sold out arena tours were your remaining a back up vocalist forever, would you take the deal?
28:25 For those with "personal demons," the price of fame and fortune seems to be having all their insecurities magnified and being vulnerable to the world. I would never take that deal, but then again, no one would ever offer it to me.
30:50 Nothing exposes planned obsolescence like a Greatest Hits tour cranked out after five years and three studio albums.  
32:28 We all like to think our friendships would survive something like this . . . but do we ever really know?
36:06 Pop executives are savvier than we are about relationship dynamics. One year after Tash chose her infant son over Atomic Kitten, a member of another successful girl group was pressured into having an abortion. Since then, I suppose pop starlets have had "No Babies" clauses in their contracts from the start. This angle is worth exploring further, but I'm afraid The Big Reunion isn't going there. 

Episode 3 is, unfortunately, the weakest of the early lot, for three reasons . . . The B*witched bits are pretty good, but The Honeyz's segments spin us right round, baby, right round like a record, baby, right round, round, round . . . All the holes in the latter's story meant that the producers had to use their dramatic reunion as filler, one episode earlier than everyone else's . . . And they chose to go that route rather than pad the holes with more 5ive. =P But it's still worth a watch, so let's go ahead with it . . .

2:21 Here's another question for those who don't like manufactured acts . . . If a member of a manufactured boyband inspires his sisters to start an "organic" group of their own, does the latter group pass muster?
3:14 That picture actually includes every look I hated from the 90s. =P B*witched were pretty, they were serious, and they could sing--but they also needed a makeover! ROFL!
7:44 Interesting! You'd think that the girls who sang on the single and danced in the video would know what they'd sound and look like, but apparently, that's not always the case when you're making processed music. Too many "middlemen."
8:19 If you wanted to be a pop star, out of a genuine love of singing and performing, and the price were a "uniform" of double denim . . . would we still have a deal? =P
13:48 It's hard to comment on The Honeyz because I really just want to slug Heavenli when she talks the spin they're putting on their story is almost Orwellian.
19:57 Does it seem wrong that you can so easily pluck someone from one band and stick her into a missing slot in another band? It probably shouldn't. If the company employing you closed, wouldn't you try to become a good employee at another? What seems to bother us is the implication that all companies are the same.
20:46 She says "one of the girls," but with only two others in that lineup, one of whom didn't sign up for the reunion, it's kind of obvious which one she's talking about, aye? =P
22:21 And in case we didn't get it, here are the producers with a handy hint. Not very classy . . .
25:36 "It was never who we were." But the double denim was? . . . "I just think the fans got confused." That's more like it. Yet how do you evolve while still remaining true to your brand? 
29:27 The B*witched girls are good storytellers, aye? More importantly, their stories all line up! ;-) In any case, I want to kiss whomever directed their segments.
34:53 I really hate to say this, but we're entering NSFW territory again. Close your eyes until the knockoff clubby music stops.
37:14 Forgive me, but I love Mariama now. How could I not? Too many pop stars don't know what to do with themselves after the industry spits them out and they just crumble . . . but Mariama seems to have flourished!
37:33 "The three of us getting together . . . a completely new and different lineup." BINGO--but you might have missed it. The problem with making The Honeyz's story about the feud between Selena and Heavenli is that it neglects the real issue of what unstable lineups do to a group. 
38:17 Now that the two divas have made up, it's painfully obvious that Mariama and all she represents are the most interesting part of the latest Honeyz incarnation. If they're going to make this second go work, they cannot afford to lose her.

And that's that! For now, at least. I'm still thinking about whether to live blog other episodes . . . But until then, I have to answer the question of what all of this has to do with converts from Protestantism who become Catholic writers.

Perhaps some former Protestant pastors can, like some of our featured pop stars, pull off new careers. One member of 5ive is co-owner of a bar, one member of Liberty X has a film production company, one of the Kittens owns a chain of cafes, and the lovely Mariama is a certified midwife. In a later episode, we will learn that one of the B*witched twins is studying to be a counselor and that 911's frontman is a studio photographer. All jobs that do not break any of the commandments and that have a market willing to make transactions!

But are they just the lucky ones? I confess that when I heard about the two men who were "house husbands," my reaction was not to respect what is a valid lifestyle for many family men whose wives happen to have made wiser career choices, but to wonder whether they had been so handicapped by what they had been through that they simply could not work in the "real world" again. Never mind the question of transferable skills.

Which brings us back to that argument for a Catholic apologetics industry and what it didn't say, which is that a certain kind of convert will forever have the deck stacked against him and be unable to change that. In which case, the Church that wants him will just have to deal. So if the only way one man can support his family is to do the literary equivalent of 90s break dancing for a crowd that could find better entertainment elsewhere, then a Church worth its communion should buy his books.

Now someone should put together a documentary series on Protestant pastors and writers whose brave decision to convert to Catholicism ended up being the worst thing they could have done to themselves. I'd live blog it, too, because the parallels would be mind-blowing.

Image Source: The Big Reunion logo


love the girls said...

"The professional apologist whom I have been most critical of told me that if what he produced did not break any commandments and had a market willing to buy it, then he had every right to make his living that way"

Similarly, Andy Warhol wrote that "Art is what you can get away with."

Belfry Bat said...

While I believe you that Warhol did say that, I'm not quite sure it's so apt a comparison; it hinges on the meaning of "get away with", much as the utilitarians run into trouble because their philosophy is actually begging the question: "what is best? why, what is most useful of course!" and that might be true if what is useful is being in/getting into Heaven; similarly, our apologist seems to be hoping to "get away with [it]" Before his final Judge.

And, on the other hand, Dignus est operarius mercede sua and all that. St. Paul lived by charity and, in his funny indirect way, had occasion at least once to boast about it; but our apologist isn't Paul, and yet he might even be doing good, so why may he not also live by that work?

Well, whatever... maybe I should read what Enbrethiliel has written, after I get back from what I ought to be doing...

love the girls said...

Belfry Bat,

Get away with in this context means what the market will purchase seeing the purchased object as a good. The writer in question gives the same argument as Warhol, what he has a right to see is what the market will purchase.

Compare the Catholic convert's argument to that of the Pontifical Council on Justice Vocation of the Business Leader section 42 that the writer has a duty to produce "really useful goods".

It could be that the goods he is producing and selling are "really useful" and thus he in turn is justified in offering them, but he does not justify the usefulness of his goods, but that he has a right to sell them if there is a market.

Enbrethiliel said...


LTG -- When I look at the state of a lot of modern art (which I'll admit I find quite entertaining), I have a feeling all modern artists took what Warhol wrote as a dare. =P

And that's an interesting clarification you made in your second comment!

Bat -- One thing I did not expect when I first waded into these waters in 2009 was that some people really, honestly think that any criticism of this body of work is tantamount to saying that those who produce it may not live by it. Is that what you think is going on here?

I'm certainly not saying that pop apologists may not live by the work they do or that their work isn't of some value. But right now, I'm about halfway through what seems to be the Professional Catholic Apologist Club's answer to 911's More Than a Woman cover, and frankly, like its musical equivalent, it's good for all the wrong reasons. The first chapter is narrow in vision and unpolished in execution, and everything really good and beautiful about the second chapter was borrowed from other writers. I wouldn't stop people from buying a copy of this book any more than I'd try to stop fans from getting tickets to a 911 reunion gig, but I don't think someone who seriously cares about musical quality will put this boyband on the same level as The Bee Gees or Tavares.

Belfry Bat said...

No, I certainly don't think that anyone present is suggesting our particular brother may not do the best he can at writing for the help of the brethren and the brethren-to-be, and I agree (of course) that this is for the best only if what is written is well-written, having both substance and style and being obedient to tradition; whether this is the case or not here I can't say better than you, and if not then there's probably a bishop out there whose duty it will eventually be to say "excuse me, but...".

There is, of course, the difficulty with all folk who grow up in the United States, that one tends to believe that if people will buy it (or if the right people will buy it, c.f. Ab.&Ftch.) then it must be good; that is, if you are Thomas Kinkaide, you just might think yourself a marvelous artist, and the sales serve simply as confirmation of that. It's something like the Kings and Emperors (and their subjects) from ages past to, well, even now I suppose, who believed victory and defeat in battle expressed the moral judgments of God upon all the belligerents, all the time...

Enbrethiliel said...


That "for the help of the brethren and brethren-to-be" is another issue. If they want to say that we should buy their books because these are of terrific quality, that's basic marketing, no matter how baseless in specific cases--and I have no quarrel with it. But saying that we should buy their books because these help people? I find that manipulative, and even a little dishonest. (Not of you, I must add, but of whomever is doing their marketing.)

In any case, I don't think this industry is something for bishops to bother with. It's not heterodoxy, just mediocrity.

love the girls said...

Belfry Bat writes : "one tends to believe that . . if the right people will buy it . . then it must be good"

That makes sense to me. If someone I know and trust to buy organic fabrics had her children dressed in cute clothing, I would look that way also.

With women's clothing it goes both ways. A good looking woman in Boden Fun Skirt both makes the skirt and makes the woman.

As for myself, I'm a slave to fashion, I insist on wearing Lands End turtlenecks with shorts and clogs year round.